How to wash cloth diapers

Cloth diapers are a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly alternative to disposable diapers. However, proper care and washing techniques are crucial to ensure their cleanliness and longevity. In this article, we will guide you through the process of washing cloth diapers effectively. From preparing for diaper washing to troubleshooting common issues, we’ll cover all the essential steps. So, let’s dive in and learn how to keep your cloth diapers clean and fresh for your little one!

How to wash cloth diapers

Cloth diapers have become increasingly popular among eco-conscious parents due to their sustainability and cost-saving benefits. Washing cloth diapers correctly is essential to maintain their absorbency and prevent diaper rash. By following a few simple steps, you can ensure that your cloth diapers stay clean and hygienic for your baby’s comfort.

Preparing for Diaper Washing

Before you start washing cloth diapers, it’s important to gather the necessary supplies. Here’s a list of items you’ll need:

  1. Cloth diapers
  2. Diaper liners (optional)
  3. Diaper pail or wet bag
  4. Laundry detergent suitable for cloth diapers
  5. Stain remover (optional)
  6. Diaper sprayer (optional)

Once you have your supplies ready, establish a washing routine that works for you. Consistency is key when it comes to washing cloth diapers, so plan a schedule that aligns with your baby’s diaper changes.

Initial Steps

Before tossing your cloth diapers in the washing machine, there are a few initial steps to take:

1. Remove Solid Waste

If your baby has solid waste, it’s important to remove it before washing the diapers. You can use a diaper sprayer to rinse off the waste directly into the toilet. Alternatively, you can use diaper liners that can be easily disposed of.

2. Pre-Rinse or Soak the Diapers

Some parents prefer to pre-rinse or soak the cloth diapers before washing to help loosen stains and minimize odors. You can either pre-rinse the diapers in the toilet or soak them in a diaper pail or wet bag filled with water.

Washing Methods

When it comes to washing cloth diapers, you have two primary methods to choose from: hand washing and machine washing. Let’s explore both options:

1. Hand Washing

Hand washing cloth diapers can be a practical choice, especially if you have a small number of diapers or lack access to a washing machine. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Fill a clean sink or basin with warm water.
  2. Add a suitable detergent for cloth diapers and agitate the water to create suds.
  3. Place the diapers in the soapy water and gently swish them around.
  4. Pay extra attention to any heavily soiled areas and gently scrub them with your hands.
  5. Drain the soapy water and rinse the diapers thoroughly under running water until the water runs clear.
  6. Squeeze out excess water from the diapers, but avoid wringing them too harshly to maintain their shape.
  7. Repeat the rinsing process if necessary.
  8. Once the diapers are clean, gently squeeze out excess water and proceed to drying.

2. Machine Washing

Machine washing cloth diapers is a convenient and efficient option. Here’s how to do it properly:

  1. Begin by emptying the diaper pail or wet bag into the washing machine.
  2. Use a cold water rinse cycle to remove any residual waste and urine.
  3. Next, set the washing machine to a hot water cycle with an appropriate water level for the load size.
  4. Add the recommended amount of detergent specifically designed for cloth diapers.
  5. Place the diapers in the machine, making sure not to overload it. It’s best to wash diapers separately from other laundry to prevent lint transfer.
  6. Start the wash cycle, allowing the machine to agitate the diapers thoroughly.
  7. After the wash cycle is complete, perform an additional rinse cycle to remove any detergent residue.
  8. Once the rinsing is done, it’s time to dry the diapers.

Temperature and Cycle Selection

Temperature and cycle selection play significant roles in washing cloth diapers effectively. Consider the following factors:

Temperature Considerations

Using the appropriate water temperature is crucial for removing stains, bacteria, and odors. Here are some temperature guidelines:

  • Hot Water: Hot water is effective at killing bacteria and removing stains. It is recommended for pre-rinsing or soaking heavily soiled diapers. However, not all fabrics can withstand hot water, so check the care instructions for your diapers.
  • Warm Water: Warm water is generally safe for most cloth diapers and helps dissolve detergent effectively. It is suitable for the main wash cycle.
  • Cold Water: Cold water is ideal for the initial rinse cycle as it helps prevent stains from setting in. Additionally, cold water is gentle on the fabrics and helps extend the lifespan of your diapers.

Understanding Different Washing Cycles

Most washing machines offer various cycle options. When washing cloth diapers, consider the following cycles:

  • Pre-Wash Cycle: This cycle is designed to remove initial soiling and prepare the diapers for the main wash. It usually uses cold or warm water.
  • Main Wash Cycle: The main wash cycle is where the bulk of the cleaning happens. It uses warm or hot water, along with detergent, to thoroughly clean the diapers.
  • Extra Rinse Cycle: An extra rinse cycle can be beneficial to ensure that all detergent residue is removed from the diapers. It is especially useful for babies with sensitive skin.
  • Gentle Cycle: If your washing machine offers a gentle cycle option, it is advisable to use it for washing cloth diapers. The gentle cycle helps protect the fabric and prevent excessive wear and tear.

Drying Cloth Diapers

Proper drying of cloth diapers is essential to maintain their integrity and ensure they are ready for reuse. Consider the following options:

Air Drying vs. Machine Drying

  • Air Drying: Air drying cloth diapers is a natural and environmentally-friendly method. You can hang them outdoors on a clothesline or indoors on a drying rack. Ensure proper airflow and adequate sunlight if possible, as sunlight helps eliminate stains and sanitize the diapers. However, keep in mind that prolonged exposure to direct sunlight may cause fading of the fabric.
  • Machine Drying: If you prefer the convenience of machine drying, select a low or medium heat setting. High heat can damage the fabric and elastic components of the diapers. Avoid using dryer sheets or fabric softeners as they can reduce absorbency and leave residue on the diapers.

Tips for Effective Drying

  • Ensure the diapers are thoroughly wrung out before drying to minimize drying time.
  • Separate the inserts and covers for faster drying.
  • Shake out the diapers before hanging or placing them in the dryer to remove any lint or loose particles.
  • Avoid overcrowding the drying space to allow adequate airflow and prevent excessive wrinkling.
  • Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for specific drying instructions, as some diaper brands may have specific guidelines.

Stain Removal Techniques

Even with regular washing, cloth diapers may occasionally develop stains. Here are some effective stain removal techniques:

  • Sun Bleaching: Place stained diapers in direct sunlight to naturally bleach the fabric. Sunlight has natural bleaching properties and can help fade stains over time.
  • Lemon Juice: Apply lemon juice directly to the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before washing. Lemon juice acts as a natural bleaching agent and can help lighten stubborn stains.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Dilute hydrogen peroxide with water (one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts water) and apply it to the stain. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before washing. Hydrogen peroxide is a gentle and effective stain remover.
  • Stain-Removal Products: There are various stain-removal products available in the market that are specifically formulated for cloth diapers. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for best results.

Remember, it’s important to treat stains promptly to increase the chances of successful removal.

Diaper Rash Prevention

Properly washing cloth diapers is crucial in preventing diaper rash and keeping your baby’s skin healthy. Here are some tips to help maintain a healthy diaper area:

  • Change diapers frequently to prevent prolonged exposure to moisture and waste.
  • Ensure diapers are clean and free from detergent residue by rinsing them thoroughly.
  • Use a suitable diaper rash cream or ointment as a protective barrier.
  • Give your baby some diaper-free time to allow the skin to breathe and recover.

By following these tips, you can minimize the risk of diaper rash and maintain your baby’s comfort.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with proper washing, you may encounter some common issues with cloth diapers. Here’s how to address them:

Odor Problems

If your cloth diapers develop a persistent odor, try the following solutions:

  • Check your washing routine to ensure proper rinsing and detergent usage.
  • Consider using a detergent specifically formulated for cloth diapers.
  • Add a laundry booster, such as baking soda or vinegar, to the wash cycle to help eliminate odors.
  • Ensure proper drying of diapers to prevent mildew or bacteria growth.

Diapers Not Getting Clean Enough

If you notice that your diapers aren’t getting clean enough, consider the following steps:

  • Evaluate your washing routine and make sure you are using the correct water temperature, detergent amount, and appropriate cycle selection.
  • Increase the water temperature during the main wash cycle to help remove stubborn stains and bacteria.
  • Double-check the amount of detergent used. Using too little detergent can result in inadequate cleaning.
  • Consider adding an extra rinse cycle to ensure all detergent residue is thoroughly removed.
  • Check the condition of your washing machine. Over time, buildup and residue can affect the machine’s performance. Clean the machine regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If the issue persists, reach out to cloth diaper communities or consult with experts who can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Traveling with Cloth Diapers

Traveling with cloth diapers requires some additional planning and preparation. Here are some tips to make diaper washing on-the-go easier:

  • Pack a wet bag or a dedicated diaper pail for storing dirty diapers until you can wash them.
  • Carry a small bottle of detergent suitable for cloth diapers. Consider using travel-sized containers or portioning out the amount you’ll need.
  • If staying in a hotel or rental with laundry facilities, inquire about the availability of washers and dryers.
  • Research local laundromats or diaper services at your travel destination if access to a washing machine is limited.
  • Consider using disposable liners during travel to simplify cleanup and reduce the need for thorough washing.

Remember, flexibility is key when traveling with cloth diapers. Adapt your routine to the available resources and prioritize keeping the diapers clean and hygienic for your baby’s comfort.

Diaper Stripping and Sanitizing

Over time, cloth diapers may accumulate residue from detergent, hard water minerals, or diaper creams, affecting their absorbency and performance. Stripping and sanitizing diapers can help restore their effectiveness. Here’s what you need to know:

When and How to Strip Diapers

  • Strip diapers when you notice a decrease in absorbency, persistent odors, or buildup on the fabric.
  • There are different methods to strip diapers, including using a vinegar soak, bleach soak, or specialized stripping agents. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or seek guidance from cloth diapering communities to determine the best method for your specific situation.
  • After stripping, rinse the diapers thoroughly to ensure all residue is removed.

Sanitizing Methods

  • Sanitizing diapers is particularly important when dealing with yeast infections or persistent bacteria issues.
  • Sunlight is a natural sanitizer, so consider sunning your diapers after washing to help kill bacteria and freshen them up.
  • If needed, sanitize diapers by using a hot water wash cycle with a disinfecting agent, such as oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure proper disinfection.

Remember to consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific cloth diaper brand, as some fabrics or components may have specific care instructions regarding stripping and sanitizing.

Diaper Storage and Organization

Proper storage and organization of cloth diapers can streamline your diapering routine and prolong the lifespan of your diapers. Here are some tips:

  • Choose a designated storage area that is clean, dry, and easily accessible.
  • Use breathable diaper pail liners or wet bags to store dirty diapers until wash day.
  • Consider organizing diapers by type, size, or color to simplify diaper changes.
  • Store clean diapers in a separate area or drawer, ensuring they are readily available when needed.
  • Rotate the use of your diapers to promote even wear and prevent certain diapers from going unused for extended periods.
  • Regularly inspect the condition of your diapers and repair or replace any damaged components promptly.

By maintaining proper storage and organization, you can maximize the lifespan of your cloth diapers and keep them in excellent condition for your little one.

Additional Considerations

When it comes to cloth diapers, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind:

Choosing the Right Cloth Diaper

When it comes to cloth diapers, there are several options available. Here are some popular types to consider:

  1. Prefold Diapers: Prefold diapers are rectangular in shape and require folding before use. They are highly absorbent and versatile. They can be secured with pins, snappis, or fastened with a diaper cover.
  2. Fitted Diapers: Fitted diapers are contoured and have elastic around the legs and waist. They provide a snug fit and excellent absorbency. Fitted diapers require a diaper cover for waterproofing.
  3. Pocket Diapers: Pocket diapers consist of a waterproof outer layer and a pocket where you can insert absorbent inserts. They are adjustable and allow for customization based on your baby’s needs.
  4. All-in-One Diapers: All-in-one diapers (AIOs) are convenient and easy to use. They have an absorbent inner layer attached to a waterproof outer layer, eliminating the need for additional inserts or covers.
  5. All-in-Two Diapers: All-in-two diapers (AI2s) consist of a waterproof shell and snap-in inserts. They allow for reusing the shell with new inserts, reducing laundry.

Consider your preferences, budget, and ease of use when selecting the type of cloth diaper that works best for you and your baby.

Cloth Diaper Accessories

To enhance your cloth diapering experience, here are some useful accessories to consider:

  • Diaper Covers: Diaper covers provide waterproof protection for prefold, fitted, or flat diapers. They come in various materials and styles, such as PUL, wool, or fleece.
  • Diaper Liners: Diaper liners act as a barrier between the diaper and your baby’s skin, making cleanup easier. They can be flushable or reusable, and they help contain solid waste.
  • Diaper Fasteners: Diaper fasteners, such as snappis or diaper pins, are used to secure prefold or flat diapers. They provide a snug fit and prevent leaks.
  • Diaper Sprayers: A diaper sprayer attaches to your toilet and helps rinse off solid waste from cloth diapers before washing.
  • Cloth Wipes: Cloth wipes are a sustainable alternative to disposable wipes. They can be used with water or a homemade wipe solution to clean your baby during diaper changes.
  • Wet Bags: Wet bags are waterproof bags used to store dirty diapers when you’re on the go. They help contain odors and moisture until you can wash the diapers.

Investing in these accessories can enhance the convenience and effectiveness of your cloth diapering journey.


Cloth diapering offers an eco-friendly, cost-effective, and gentle option for your baby’s diapering needs. By following proper washing methods, understanding temperature and cycle selection, and utilizing effective stain removal techniques, you can ensure clean and hygienic cloth diapers for your little one.

Remember to choose the right cloth diaper type that suits your preferences, consider additional accessories for convenience, and maintain proper storage and organization to prolong the lifespan of your diapers.

With proper care and attention, cloth diapers can be a practical and sustainable choice, providing comfort and peace of mind for both you and your baby.


  1. Can I use cloth diapers at night? Yes, you can use cloth diapers at night. Consider using diapers with higher absorbency, such as fitted diapers or adding extra inserts, to ensure your baby stays dry throughout the night.
  2. How many cloth diapers do I need? The number of cloth diapers you’ll need depends on how often you plan to do laundry. As a general guideline, having around 20-24 diapers in your rotation is recommended.
  3. Are cloth diapers more time-consuming than disposable diapers? While cloth diapers require additional steps such as washing and drying, they can be integrated into your routine with ease. The benefits of cloth diapers, including cost savings and reduced environmental impact, often outweigh the minimal extra time investment.
  1. Can I use cloth diapers when traveling? Yes, you can use cloth diapers while traveling. Plan ahead by packing wet bags or a dedicated diaper pail for storing dirty diapers. Research local laundry facilities or consider using disposable liners for added convenience.
  2. Are cloth diapers suitable for babies with sensitive skin? Yes, cloth diapers are often a preferred choice for babies with sensitive skin. The breathable materials and absence of harsh chemicals found in some disposable diapers can help reduce the risk of irritation and diaper rash.
  3. Do cloth diapers leak more than disposable diapers? When properly fitted and maintained, cloth diapers can be just as effective in preventing leaks as disposable diapers. Ensure a proper fit and choose diapers with sufficient absorbency to minimize leaks.
  4. Can I use cloth diapers for multiple children? Cloth diapers are designed to be reusable and durable, making them suitable for multiple children. With proper care and maintenance, cloth diapers can be passed down or used for siblings, maximizing their value and sustainability.

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